Little Bo-Peep

A while ago I asked my personal trainer (PT) if I should ask my friend to get in touch. We trained together a couple of times and my friend had very quickly fallen off the self-improvement wagon. PT told me not to. The theory being that if he wants to become fitter my friend will take the steps required and contact PT himself.

If there is any sense that PT is chasing my friend the dynamic of professional service provider and client shifts. No longer a professional relationship, PT is doing my friend a favour by checking up on him. The relationship is then dependant on a whole different set of emotions. Instead of my friend wanting to improve, and PT is in the improvement business, it becomes a game of guilt. My friend feels guilty because he hasn't sought his own improvement and that becomes his soul motivation for turning up to training.

That scenario reminds me of dentists and mechanics. How often have we put off going to the dentist or the mechanic because we haven't taken care of our teeth or cars in the way they told us to? How many times have you had your dentist tut-tut or actually scold you while in the chair. They might think they're doing it in a friendly way and they're definitely doing it with your best interests in mind, but that tiny action infantalises rather than empowering.

Guilt does not lead to responsibility. Responsibility comes from a desire for self-control and self-improvement. As such we can't be responsible for other people. When they want the help they'll seek it. If they are only doing damage to themselves there is nothing we can do to protect them.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently because I find myself in a similar position. One of the things I do is help people improve their work/life balance and achieve their goals by helping them understand what's important and then look at what tools they have at their disposal to help achieve those goals.

In work like this, I sometimes receive partial payment up-front. I put in a lot of introductory work and research to tailor sessions for particular clients and I've found that they aren't always willing to put in their own work. If I don't get some payment up-front I end up losing out on the deal.

The desire to chase clients, to encourage them to do their homework and contact me to organise a session is strong. It feels like bad customer service to just ignore them until they get in touch. After all, I'm holding onto their money.

Chasing them is not going to help them improve themselves. Efficient work practices and personal fitness are both about taking responsibility for one's actions. There are penalties we face for not taking that responsibility: bad work/life balance; poor health; increased ongoing car costs; loss of teeth.

Providing a professional service is not doing someone a favour. It is maintaining a business relationship with remuneration for work. The money has been paid up to a point and the services should stop at that point. If there is more take than give in any direction, one party is being screwed and nobody wants to be in that situation.